With the unprecedented pardoning of America’s most reprehensible Sheriff, Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, the Trump administration doubles down on its blatant disregard for human and civil rights and bull horns its support of racists, racial profiling, border militarization, and white supremacy.
Summarized best by our friends at the Opportunity Agenda, “In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department sued then Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for a 'pattern of unlawful discrimination' against Latino Arizonans that included discriminatory and unjustified stops, searches, and detentions. As a result, a federal judge ordered him to stop these practices. Last month he was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to do so, opting instead to continue his harassment and intimidation of Latino Arizonans.”
Not one week after the terrorism in Charlottesville, where Nazi and Klu Klux Klan members charged the streets in riot gear and with weapons, leading to the death of one woman and dozens more critically injured, the President, under the cowardly cloak of a Friday night news dump, announced that he will use his first official pardon to give impunity to a notorious violator of equal justice and our Constitution. But the pardon is not final yet. As of Wednesday, The Washington Post reports “two surprising developments relating to the pardon of ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio: a challenge to the president’s pardon power and a court’s decision to hold a hearing rather than summarily dismiss the case.”
Nevertheless, by pardoning him, the president sends a message that civil liberties are only for some, and that he is fine with law enforcement flouting the very laws they are meant to uphold. What’s more, on the heels of defending hateful demonstrators in Charlottesville, the president continues to use the highest office and his broad presidential pardon powers to absolve, excuse, and protect someone, who described his inhumane detention facilities as “concentration camps.” By stark contrast, the Obama administration used the presidential office to signal sentencing reform and granted clemency to 1,715 federal prisoners who were serving outrageous terms for non-violent drug offenses. In other words, reform and compassion were guiding principles in Obama’s use of presidential pardons and clemencies.
(For a better look at Joe Arpaio’s long-time record of human rights abuses, see the Phoenix New Times' reporting highlights.)
The drug war is a war on immigrant communities. It fuels racial profiling, border militarization, violence against immigrants, intrusive government surveillance and widespread detentions and deportations. Arpaio’s police department notoriously used drug laws to stop, search, detain, and justify deportations – ripping apart families and attempting to extinguish communities.
In Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio waged his cruel, inhumane, and unconstitutional campaign against Latinx communities, because, simply, no one cared about the people suffering under the Arpaio regime. Aptly stated in this Phoenix New Times’ article on the alarming rate of alleged suicides in his jails, “The sheriff's charnel house is accepted because the victims are not members of a 4-H club. They are late on child support, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, drive without licenses, have problems with authority, sport ink with gang affiliations.”
But we care. The Drug Policy Alliance cares. We advocate for drug policies rooted in science, compassion, health, and human rights. We actively pursue policies that reduce contact between the police and immigrant communities, which helps reduce vulnerability to deportation. We increase opportunities for and accessibility of retroactive relief, like pardons, expungement and records sealing.
This country can and will move forward – if we unite and collectively resist hatred, bigotry, and systemic racism, and if we hold criminals like Joe Arpaio accountable for their crimes against humanity.
Melissa Franqui is the manager of communications and marketing for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Photo via Gage Skidmore